Thursday, March 12, 2009

Do we need to give computers to students?

My goodness it’s cold outside. I have just returned from my senior fitness program where I finally added back some weights to my routine. I left exhausted, but it was a good exhaustion. It felt really good to add to the routine.

It’s the weather that’s brutal this morning. The forecast calls for sunny skies but temperatures only in the low 30s this morning. The temperatures wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t have some rather strong winds. That puts the wind chill well below freezing. We’ll look forward to the weekend when those temps should be in the 40s both days.

Governor Baldacci said in his state of the state speech the other night that he envisions lots more spending in Maine. Many of the programs he’s pushing probably would be good for the state if economic conditions and our taxing structure weren’t in such bad shape.

One of the items he mentioned was forming a new commission to consolidate all the energy packages he wants passed. That, of course, means more government growth which in turn means a higher cost of state government. He says Maine must become independent of foreign oil and develop more efficient ways of providing energy. They include, but are not limited to, more wind mills for wind power and more use of solar energy. I don’t think I read anything about harnessing the state’s rivers for water power. Oh, yes. I just remembered. We’ve torn down most dams in the state.

How does he plan of paying for all this “investment?” Simple. More taxes. One legislator already has grabbed hold of the energy plan and is proposing a tax on heating oil. Like the cigarette taxes (I don’t smoke), a tax on heating oil will hit the state’s poorest the hardest. We’re already taxed on electricity, telephones, gasoline, etc. Now we’re going to be told to pay a new tax, from the governor who promised no new taxes, for heating oil. The cost will again go up, more people won’t be able to afford it, and more people will be asking for government assistance; taxes will have to go up even more.

Here’s another way the state, already deep in the financial hole, is going to spend your money on a program in education. The governor hinted in his speech that the laptop program in the schools will be expanded to cover all students and teachers in grades 7 through 12. We learned from WCSH-TV yesterday that the state is already negotiating a contract for 100,000 laptops with Apple Computer Company. The TV station reports it will cost about 25-million dollars a year.

I wrote about how I wished I’d had a computer in my school days…or even a typewriter…as there’s no question about it making writing easier. But does it make it better? After a few years of giving computers to the middle schoolers, the whole writing section of the Maine State Assessment Test had to be thrown out because the kids didn’t write effectively. They didn’t use computers. All the computer can do in writing is make it easier to write. It doesn’t create better writing.

The school system should return to the tediousness, yes, I’ll admit learning is tedious, of learning how to construct a sentence, how to develop ideas, how to use effective grammar and correct spelling in writing. I’ll readily agree that the only place that’s necessary for correct English is in writing. The formality of grammar and construction isn’t necessary in oral communications at all. In fact, just a glance, a shrug, a quizzical look along with the short, choppy sentences can communicate what people talking want to communicate.

Not all communication is face to face, however. When we’re writing something, we must remember that folk from many backgrounds and ability levels will be reading and it’s through the correct use of the language that written communications is effective. Readers cannot look up and ask what the intent of something is.

I’d be the first to admit, in fact very early on last year I mentioned grammar and construction in writing, that all I write is not formal. I use some slang, I use some sentence fragments, and I use some creative construction. But I know every one of those things that are here; and all have been used for a purpose. For that purpose to work, however, I had to fully understand how grammar is used properly. I’m not always successful. I thank all the English teachers in high school and college that made me follow the rules.

And one area which I never see addressed is what I would call cheating or plagiarism by students. I wonder how many adults realize that almost anything a teacher requires can be found on the Internet. Students have simply copied and pasted information they have found. I mentioned that comparative essay on three novels by one author I had to write in high school yesterday. In today’s age I could have found one on the Internet, probably in less than five minutes, copied it, changed the name, etc., and passed it in.

For those of you who would like me to cite a source for that last paragraph, my source is my simple observations of it actually happening.

Few teachers will take the time to sit down with students and question them on these writings. Questioning the meaning of words, for example, or what the student meant in a sentence or paragraph. That could be a real eye-opener.

I’m glad we’re making life easier for students, but test results are not supporting the effectiveness of that ease.

If that $100 million dollar figure WCSH-TV cites is correct, I wonder if it might not be better used elsewhere.

Who’s leading our country? I’ve been reading on various news sources that Democrat pundits are even questioning the leadership and the ability of President Obama to lead. Yesterday he signed into law the omnibus bill designed to keep government running to the end of the fiscal year. That bill is loaded with more than nine thousand pieces of pork, earmarks, legislation.

Calling the bill flawed, he signed it out of range of the cameras and public, almost as if he felt if we couldn’t see him, it didn’t happen. Shortly after the signing he told Congress he would be more critical of earmarks after this. But he’s said he would oppose earmarks before and in two massive spending packages so far, there have been more earmarks than any other kind of spending.

The question comes from those asking who’s really in charge? Is it House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Senate leader Harry Reid? There have been reports that even those two have had closed door shouting matches. If President Obama is not the one calling the shots, then his ability to lead is being called out.


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